Councillors and residents rally against library closure plans in Havering

Havering councillors and residents have rallied against plans to close libraries in the borough, saying they will “deprive local communities”.

The council is currently consulting residents on the future of five libraries, with a view to closing four over the next five years.

Shutting down four of the borough’s ten centres will help the cash-strapped authority to save money as it looks to tackle a £32.5m budget gap.

Councillor Paul Middleton, the cabinet member for cultural services, previously blamed the government’s “outdated funding formula” and its own budget shortfall for the “painful” closures.

One resident said on X/Twitter that closing centres that provided a “fantastic service” was like “axing the branch of trees we’re sitting on”.

A spokesperson for Save Our Libraries Essex, based in the neighbouring county, attacked the “foolish” plan and said councils “should remember that libraries are of incredible value for money and provide equal opportunities, education and well-being”.

Others, however, argued they are no longer necessary. A fellow X user wrote: “Libraries are not needed anymore. The internet is here now, keep up.”

The libraries earmarked for closure are: Collier Row Library in Romford; Elm Park Library in Hornchurch; Gidea Park Library; Harold Wood Library; and South Hornchurch Library.

Romford Central Library, Harold Hill Library, Hornchurch Library, Upminster Library and Rainham Library will all remain open.

A counter-petition has been launched by Havering Conservatives, the main opposition group to the incumbent Havering Residents Association.

Hosted on group leader Keith Prince’s website, it says the closures “will deprive local communities of much-needed services they may not have at home,” such as printing services or internet access.

David Taylor, a Conservative councillor for Romford, said: “There are more options than just cutting. By closing our libraries the council will be making a bad situation worse.”

He added that alternatives should be considered, such as setting up volunteer-led community hubs.

Cllr Taylor added: “We can do the same here in Havering. This will save money, and provide an excellent new facility.”

The petition has been supported by Barking & Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas (Labour) and Romford MP Andrew Cosindell (Conservative), as well as Labour councillors.

Gabby Lawler, the Havering branch secretary for the UNISON union, previously said that closing libraries should be a “last resort”.

Havering accepted a £54m loan from Westminster back in February, after finding itself teetering on the edge of effective bankruptcy. The loan came with two conditions attached: the development of a financial recovery plan and cutting “superfluous” spending.

By retaining just six libraries – which see more than 80% of visits per year, according to council data – the authority hopes to put the extra £300,000 towards a more balanced budget.

It will also be able to invest more into its libraries with a smaller portfolio, Cllr Middleton added. He said: “We believe a smaller number of libraries means we can also provide better buildings and facilities to residents with the limited money we have.”

Havering has also floated the idea of developing a new children’s library, with support for children with special educational needs, as part of its five-year library strategy that will launch this year.

The council consultation, comprising 41 questions, will run until August 2.

Havering Council was contacted for further comment.

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Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter